Southwest…the Love Airline…based at Dallas’s Love Field…with the symbol LUV…An airline that once dressed flight attendants in hot pants and declared Racquel Welsh its ideal employee type has hit middle age.
“That’s the day that the airline built on buxom tops, lanky legs, hot pants and go-go boots told a 23-year-old college student that she was too scantily dressed to fly. Blow out the candles. The company that espoused ‘free love’ when it battled to open up Love Field has gone moralistic,” the Dallas Morning News reports.
It took Southwest six weeks to reply to Kyla Ebbert’s mother, who requested an explanation of why they took her off a plane for wearing a revealing outfit on her way to her breast-enlargement surgery post-op. Even Cheryl Hall, the columnist who wrote the above quote, had to wonder which side is right in this…Southwest failed to be clear about situations like this to its customers and staff, it took them too long to respond…both to the mother and to the media.
So, Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly issued an apology and company president spoke to Ebbert directly. They even used it as a way to launch a “mini-skirt” fare sale. Defused, Miss Ebbert moved on to be put in the spotlight she seems to enjoy despite protestations by Virgin America, the new young hip airline that wants scantily clad women as part of its image.
Southwest has also revised its open seating program. When we first tried Southwest when it came to our neck of the woods in the late 90s, we went to the gate, checked in, and received a plastic card with a number which indicated our order of boarding. Then online boarding came around…with the A, B, and C boarding groups.
Southwest even filed a lawsuit with a company that would check you in and guarantee you were in the A group and thus the first to board. Boardfirst.com charged $5 to guarantee the A group, violated Southwest’s policy of no commercial use of Southwest.com. The owner decided to stop fighting the lawsuit and shut down the site. She believes Southwest may begin charging for the priority boarding themselves.
Beginning in November, customers will be assigned not only a letter, but a number, a hybrid between the older and the new system. The A group will queue in A1-30 and A31-60, followed by two groups of B, and then the remaining Cs. Many are happy the airline has not abandoned open seating in favor of assigned seating, which it experimented with. The new boarding process is not going to make any money for the carrier, but should hopefully streamline the experience.
As part of the new boarding experience, Southwest has unveiled a redesigned gate area. Part of the redesign will be the installation of stainless steel columns and television monitors to support the new boarding process. Other new elements include a family area containing small-sized tables and chairs, “kid friendly” programming displayed on a flat screen television, and low to the ground power stations for charging electric devices; and a business/leisure section with padded seats, tables with power outlets, power stations with stools, and flat screen televisions with news programming. The makeover will be implemented at all airports by the first half of 2008. For some pictures and other media of the gate remodel…check out the report on the Nuts about Southwest blog.
Southwest is also continuing to look at opportunities for international routes. They sent executives to an international conference on route development and hopes to offer international service through codeshare partner ATA, possibly beginning with the Caribbean or Canada. It could also look to other carriers, possibly ones that offer flights to Europe or Asia, but likely not until at least 2010.
Finally, the NTSB has released its report on the Southwest incident at Chicago Midway. On December 8th, 2005, a Southwest Airlines plane skidded off the runway and onto a street, hitting several cars and killing a boy. The NTSB blamed the accident on several factors…the pilot failing to apply available reverse thrust in a timely manner, air traffic control for failing to update with current information, and Southwest for not providing its pilots with guidance that might have led them to divert the flight.
So…there is a lot going on with Southwest. Revamped boarding process, spanking new gate areas/facilities, international service…We wonder what is next.